On year eight of Cheap Tunes Tuesday blogging, I’m occasionally dumbfounded when I realize there is a certain band or album I haven’t discussed here yet. Today is one of those instances. Not that the group was a major household name or anything, but they certainly made their mark in the late ‘90s with an album that is still seeing radio play today.
The hardcore punk scene was really evolving in the early 1980s, and bassist Joe Gittleman and vocalist Dicky Barrett were a part of it. Although they were with different bands, members of Gang Green and Cheapskates would often intertwine and play shows as one unit. Eventually they quasi-formed a merged band—and added a saxophonist, guitarist, drummer, trumpeter, and a fella named Ben Carr, who was simply referred to as a “ubiquitous, on stage presence”. Ben would be called a “Bosstone”, and the group started to call themselves the Bosstones as a reference to their home base of Boston, Mass. While most of the group was influenced by ‘80s metal like AC/DC and Motorhead, Barrett was so enthralled by ska, they decided to go that direction. In 1987 they contributed to a ska compilation record, and at that point it was noted another band used the name Bosstones back in the ‘50s. A bartender friend arbitrarily suggested using “Mighty Mighty Bosstones”, and to avoid any legal issues, they went with it.
After getting signed to a small label, they released a couple albums to little fanfare. In the early ‘90s an EP of covers was released, that generated a small amount of buzz. But that lackluster response all changed when we fast forward to March 11 of 1997 when Let’s Face It was commercially released. It was their fifth studio album—but this time had backing of Mercury Records. In January of the same year, they had the idea of pre-releasing the single “The Impression That I Get” to radio all over the U.S. The strategy worked, as the single was a smashing success, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard charts. The album itself wasn’t far behind, hitting No. 27 at its peak.
To date, Let’s Face It is the only Bosstones album to have charted at all. Sales were solid, with nearly five million worldwide to date. Critically, it was rated very well in the moment, but it’s now been referred to as a “quintessential piece of the 90’s”. Some have debated whether or not it’s the best ska album to come out of the decade, which I’m not sure I’d agree with, but it’s certainly in the discussion.
Ska music for many in the era was simply an escape to something different from what you normally heard on the radio. You heard plenty of angsty guitar and grungy lyrics—but hearing a 6-piece band with several horns? That was something 90’s kids hadn’t experienced before. And if you were fortunate enough to see the Bosstones in concert, they had that “ubiquitous stage presence” busting out dance moves for over an hour without relenting. It was such an odd, but awesome thing to see in person —something I legitimately have not seen before or since. Is this particular album perfect? No. There are some flat tracks, and some that just don’t resonate. But the few that do, they are like a soundtrack to whatever you were doing at the time. And the countless movies, ads, and television you heard especially the lead single in, it’s all a reminder of less complicated times in life.
The Mighty Mightys took a hiatus for a couple years and reunited in 2007. Their most recent album came out just last year, but frankly, I haven’t picked up any of their work but this one. Maybe one day—but I know someone who has, and I’m sure it isn’t good. Kidding! I’m sure it’s great as that’s the impression that I get, anyway. Happy Tuesday!
Top 3 Tracks: